If you have never debated before, you are in a very bittersweet position. On one hand, the first debate is an irreplaceable experience that you will likely never forget, and this notion is exciting. On the other hand — and this is usually the hand favored by people in your position — there will likely be a significant amount of stage fright and general nervousness preceding your performance. Whether you are a skilled public speaker or an introvert venturing out of your comfort zone, the best way to deal with the latter notion is to be well prepared; preparation is a great leveraging point to summon up self-confidence and eliminate nerves stemming from the fear of looking poorly in front of your debate’s audience.
Here are a few tips to make the preparation process smoother and easier to approach.
Know your side
Regardless of the topic or setting, most debates can be boiled down to a single series of interactions: an argument followed by a counter-argument and subsequent cross-analysis. Therefore, you will need to make sure you are well-versed in your side of the argument in question. As a novice debater, one of the quickest and easiest ways to get into trouble is to exhibit a poor understanding of your topic or case. You cannot hope to make a convincing, passionate argument if you are clearly out of your element — this approach will technically make your case appear fabricated by default. If you think you have studied your material enough, study a little bit more.
Expect the unexpected
Being prepared for the unexpected may seem like a no-brainer in the debate world, but many new debaters still seem to overlook this variable as they brush up on their material; as noted in the previous section, studying your argument and knowing the case at hand is extremely important from a foundational standpoint, but you must also be fluid and adaptable in the heat of the debate. Otherwise, you are going to find yourself off-balance sooner than you can imagine. Debate is an art without much of a blueprint, and each interaction will be a little bit different depending on the topic, your opponent, the debate’s moderator(s), and the rhetorical direction of each presented argument. Be ready for anything.
Visualization is a common and useful pre-competition technique — it is regularly adopted by everyone from professional athletes to competitive musicians — and it is a method that will serve you well in your first debate. Once you have developed a strong understanding of your opening arguments, visualize the potential ways in which your opponent will counter them. Take this vision a step further and imagine how you then might respond to this hypothetical counter. These mental exercises will train your brain to spring into action with minimal hesitation during the real event.